CFO-as-a-Service: who, what and how?

CFO-as-a-Service offers an innovative approach by providing high-quality financial expertise without the overhead costs of a full-time CFO. Get to know Nick and his plans.

In an era of rapidly changing business needs and growing complexity, companies need flexible and cost-effective solutions for their financial strategies. CFO-as-a-Service offers a innovative approach thru high-quality financial expertise to deliver without the overhead costs of a full-time CFO. To do this, we would like to send someone out who can make an impact with their knowledge and expertise.

Nick has already more than earned his stripes in the finance world. Now he wants to use his knowledge and expertise to make a real difference in start-ups, scale-ups and on the SME market. How then? We're just asking him ourselves. Get to know Nick and his plans for our CFO-as-a-Service offering!

Hi Nick, welcome to Unikoo! With your arrival, we will expand our service package with a slightly less common form of consultancy, namely CFO-as-a-Service. What exactly does that mean, and how does this role differ from a classic CFO?

With CFO-as-a-Service, we can fast and flexible Deploy CFOs with extensive experience to our customers on a part-time basis. This is how our customers can targeted advice inquire about a very specific topic or for specific financial challenges they are currently facing. Ad hoc, so they don't have to bear the considerable costs of a full-time in-house CFO. Only when necessary: you can scale up and down according to need or need.

A part-time CFO must be a jack-of-all-trades and have experience in many different professional environments. Of course, I am not a true expert in every branch. After all, finance is so broad, no one can know everything. And that's not necessary either.

Why are you the right person to fulfill this role?

I started my career as financial strategic consultant at KPMG and got to know many different business environments relatively quickly. From that perspective, I had the opportunity to participate in various finance functions and to analyse where (and whether) you, as a Finance department, can offer added value to support the wider business ambitions.

After about 6 years at KPMG, I was looking for an internal commitment and started as lead business controller at a growth company in software — a very broad role where, together with a fantastic team, I play all facets of those 2the have been able to shape a line function: ranging from accounting/operational topics, to building layered management reports, integrated performance management and ERP implementations to financial-strategic issues. Everything was covered. There, too, the question arose how the finance function should be set up and evolve to contribute to the broader strategic ambitions.

After having qualified myself for another 5 years in a broad spectrum of financial topics, I wanted my experience in managing large teams reinforce. I wanted to be stimulated back by the complexity of a large organization, one with an international appeal and ambitious plans.

That's how I came to the Port Of Antwerp-Bruges where I spent the past 3.5 years managed a team of 15 business controllers. My responsibilities were diverse: business intelligence, reporting & performance management, business partnering and strategy. During that period, we merged with the Port of Bruges and, in light of the imminent energy transition, looked ahead to investment and contribution models for a future port, where not only traditional activities play a role.

CTO Cynric and CFO Nick @ Unikoo HQ

A good CFO must be able to lead people: listen, lead, show empathy, trust to help people grow in their roles, and reconcile conflicts.

A part-time CFO must be a jack-of-all-trades and have experience in many different professional environments. Of course, I am not a true expert in every branch. After all, finance is so broad, no one can know everything. And that's not necessary either. You don't have to be able to do everything, but you have to do the have conceptual knowledge, speak the language and, above all, be able to send the people who do have the expertise.

Apart from that, you can expect a CFO to be comfortable with the accounting technical part, but certainly also versed in everything related to financial planning, reporting and investment analysis and has a healthy basis in corporate finance and M&A. And then there are the people and management skills. A good CFO must be able to lead people: listen, lead, show empathy, trust to help people grow in their roles, and reconcile conflicts.

A serious range of tasks. Exactly what services do you offer within the framework of CFO-as-a-Service? Where do you see the biggest need among customers?

The time when CFOs number crunchers those who were mainly focused on technical accounting are already far behind us. Modern CFOs should contribute strategically and ensure that the financial strategy is in line with the company's broader strategic ambitions. And that is also what is most in demand among our customers: they want clear and correct input to make data-driven decisions. In other words, they need budgeting and forecasting.

For example, we can help with preparing business plans and management reports, financial modeling and performance management that links the right incentives to appropriate KPIs. We are also well versed in investment and profitability analyses and also try to generate cash and cost awareness from that perspective. Especially with startups, we notice that cost controlling is also very important. After all, they have a lot of costs and limited income, so it's crucial to predict which investments will bring value.

Suppose a customer comes to Unikoo and is interested in CFO services. So how do you go about this?

First and foremost, I do a lot. landscape research where the customer is better able to understand. I consult all information that I can find publicly and that helps me understand exactly what the customer does and what they stand for. I also read the annual reports and try the strategy and pain points to be identified in advance. By already having an idea of this, you can dig much deeper into the customer's wishes and needs afterwards during the conversation.

After all, you have passed the phase of a vague conceptual proposal and can focus on concrete solutions depending on what the customer says. Based on this conversation, we therefore make a concrete proposal. What competencies or profiles are needed to get started? Over what time horizon and with what frequency should we use these profiles? How do we define success in each specific case?

Even companies that already have a CFO may well use a sparring partner.

What type of companies benefit most from CFOaaS?

We mainly work for growth companies that want to see financial challenges solved quickly and cost-efficiently. After all, startups, scale-ups and SMEs don't always have the resources to hire a full-time CFO, but of course they need strategic financial guidance to manage growth, consecutive funding rounds, budgeting and financial forecasts. With this target group underpin we especially also sustainable growth: the complexity within companies increases as they grow and evolve, and that comes with challenges. We help customers understand which factors drive their results and where their priorities should lie. The complexity is growing, and we can grow with it.

That does not mean that we also like to work for larger players who are undergoing a transition and feel the need to temporarily bring extra financial baggage on board. Even companies that already have a CFO might do well. a sparring partner use. We also see that companies sometimes have their hands full. For example, when a new system suddenly needs to be integrated, a capital round has to be prepared or a cash flow developed, the existing CFO has too few hours in his day. The need for a flexible CFO does not always start from a vacuum.

You just spoke about cost efficiency. What kind of costs do companies expect?

We want our services approachable and flexible able to offer. As a company, you can already use our CFO-as-a-service from a few days a month and scale up as and when necessary. Of course, that contrasts strongly with the cost of a full-time CFO.

An example: You pay a permanent CFO throughout the year, regardless of the financial challenges. Suppose that setting up a cash flow takes two weeks, then you have a cash flow plan for roughly 5% of a CFO's cost. A part-time CFO as a sparring partner is already useful from 2 to 3 days a month. In addition, we can also offer people with different finance backgrounds and experience levels depending on customer needs, which in turn can translate into attractive price blends.

We are closer to the customer, thinking and offering concrete solutions instead of high-level, holistic approaches and off-the-shelf packages.

As you mentioned, the needs of companies change; sometimes very quickly. How can you adapt to changing customer needs?

In our flexibility is our biggest asset. After all, when needs evolve, we must evolve with them. When new trends, technological innovations or market changes occur, we look together at how they affect the customer's playing field. We then discuss with the customer whether, how and where to switch the focus and what competencies are needed for this. In short: we want to be clear about the goals we want to achieve together with our customers, but flexible in how we achieve those goals. We want to be able to point the customer in the direction.

That is also the difference with the major players: we are closer to the customer, think and offer concrete solutions instead of high-level, holistic approaches and off-the-shelf packages.

And for Unikoo? What are the future plans for the “CFO-as-a-Service” service?

Today's ambition is to strengthen our brand and expand the reach of our Finance Heros and CFOs with growth companies in Flanders. We want to grow. To do this, we are looking for a lot of additional exceptional talent, who not only have those valuable competencies but also the right mindset. So here's also a warm call: are you or do you know someone who is eager to make this story come true? Get in touch!